The New York Rangers have signed forward Mika Zibanejad to a five-year contract worth $26.75 million, the team announced Tuesday.
Zibanejad was scheduled for an arbitration hearing in Toronto, but the two sides avoided it and the 24-year-old was signed.
“Obviously it was something we hoped was going to happen,” he said. “I’m super happy a deal got done. I’m super happy to be staying in New York for the next five years and I’m really, really looking forward to next season.”
Zibanejad should be established as the top centre on the Rangers, with Derek Stepan traded to Arizona in June. Fourth line centre Oscar Lindberg is also no longer with New York, which suggests a different look down the middle on Broadway. The club will go with Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, David Desharnais, and Cristoval Nieves at the position unless something changes come training camp.
18-year-old Lias Andersson is among the players expected to get a look.
“As a player, you always want more responsibility and a bigger role,” Zibanejad said. “It’s something I’m working really hard to make sure I’m taking advantage of the chance I’m getting.”
Zibanejad was drafted by the Ottawa Senators at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and became a New York Ranger in July of 2016. He missed two months in 2016-2017 with a broken fibula, but he still posted 37 points in 56 games – a career high 0.66 points per game.
In a dozen playoff games with the Rangers, Zibanejad had nine points. New York was eliminated by the Senators in the second round of the post-season.
The Rangers had been lining things up to sign Zibanejad and trading Stepan to Arizona was a big piece of the puzzle. It cleared a $6.5 million cap hit off the books and enabled the club to sign the centre and defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk, plus Brendan Smith was re-signed in June to a four-year deal worth $17.4 million.
With the deal done, the focus is on next season and pushing forward from a disappointing end to the last round.
“As a group, we’re obviously disappointed with how the season ended last year,” Zibanejad said. “We had a good group and a good team to go further than we did. I’m really excited about our team and our chances to do better this year.”